Fall 2015
Japanese Paper-Folding is a Hit in Specialty Retail

With two locations and franchise opportunities on the way, Taro’s Origami Studio is growing fast.

Taro Yaguchi was destined to make a name for himself in the world of origami, but some may say he took the long way in getting there. Yaguchi grew up in Japan, where he learned about paper and origami from a young age. His grandfather was in the Japanese paper business and origami, well, it’s just a part of the fabric of Japanese life. Michi Kanno, director of development for Taro’s Origami Studio, who also grew up in Japan, recalls her grandmother teaching her how to fold origami as a child: “It’s just something everyone did and the older people always taught the young people.” Yaguchi grew up and went on to study mechanical engineering in Tokyo and eventually became a patent attorney with his own multinational patent law firm with offices in Japan and the United States. However, in 2001, origami found him again as he created his first sheet of pre-printed origami as an interesting leave-behind piece for a business trade show.

The origami paper airplane was a hit at the show and sparked an idea in Yaguchi that maybe origami was something that would catch on here in America. He was right. Yaguchi went on to invent easy-to-use, pre-printed origami paper, a system of paper folding skill levels (much like the belt colors in martial arts), many origami books, instructional software and finally he opened his instructional studio in 2011 in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. And yes, he is still a patent attorney practicing in Philadelphia and Tokyo.

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Origami in America

“Americans see origami differently, with meaning and purpose,” says Kanno. “In the United States it’s seen as an art, a skill, a way for children to develop coordination and for senior citizens to preserve their memory.” She says she’s constantly amazed at the new ideas people come up with for origami. Taro’s Origami Studio has grown into a place for young and old to come together and learn and enjoy origami. The studios are also fully stocked with books, paper and other instructional materials.

“Even though our emphasis is on teaching, our sales are about 50-50 between instruction and retail sales of materials,” says Kanno. At Taro’s Origami Studio, the space is bright and open with numerous places for hands-on folding from drop-in corners to round tables where groups can fold together. Anyone is welcome to drop in to fold from three years old and up, using instructional tablet computers with Taro’s software on them. “Drop-in folding has been the most successful part of our studios,” says Kanno. Groups of three to five can make table reservations to sit around one of the round tables and enjoy conversation and folding together. Children are also welcome to host their birthday parties at the studio. Partygoers are treated to origami instruction and get to take home their own unique origami art. The studios are also used for school field trips, after-school activities and summer camps.

Kanno says Taro’s team has been most surprised at the success and popularity of origami folding sessions for corporate clients. Companies use these origami instructional sessions to build teamwork, encourage creativity and offer employees a new skill.

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Expansion plans

The next step in Yaguchi’s dream of making origami accessible to all is to expand and grow the reach of Taro’s Origami Studio across the United States, says Kanno. The second Taro’s Origami Studio opened in 2013 in the Rockridge section of Oakland, California. Kanno says that there are numerous ways Taro’s is expanding: new studios, teacher licensing and even mini-studios within existing specialty retail stores. “A retailer can create an origami corner in their store with our paper and an instructional tablet computer. New origami folding models download to the tablet each month to keep the content fresh,” says Kanno. Having an origami corner takes little space but can be a unique and quite profitable addition to a store’s product offering. Setting up a mini-studio costs just a few hundred dollars, depending on the size the retailer desires.

Taro’s is currently accepting applications and planning new franchise studio locations. They are not fixed with one business structure at this time, says Kanno, and are open to various relationships, such as franchises and joint ventures. They have also begun licensing teachers and have about a dozen newly licensed teachers with more on the way. Licensed teachers can then use their skills to teach Taro’s origami methods to anyone from children to corporate moguls to seniors.

Kanno says there is great excitement that as the organization begins to grow exponentially, so does the accessibility and beauty of origami, American style.

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Melissa M. Kellogg

Melissa M. Kellogg is a freelance writer specializing in small business, marketing, social media and retail business management. She is based in Edwards, CO, and is a regular contributor to GIFT SHOP magazine. Her work has also been published in various newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Mexico
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